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SUNDAY AM: I now have the weekend’s official numbers, and kudos to my box office gurus for getting them right once again. Moviegoers were in a kick-butt mood, so No. 1 was Lionsgate/The Weinstein Co’s The Forbidden Kingdom, pairing martial arts movie stars Jet Li and Jackie Chan for the first time: it had a $20.8 million weekend after opening to $7.7M Friday and $7.9M Saturday in 3,151 theaters. fk2.jpgIndeed, “the smart money” was on Forbidden Kingdom because of its PG-13 rating, one marketer told me. “Its target audience has been reliable in the past.” And it was again. But in a conversation with me this morning, TWC’s Harvey Weinstein, whose company shares domestic and foreign 50/50 with Lionsgate, credited the movie’s success to producer Casey Silver. “First and foremost, no one has ever seen Jackie and Jet together but Casey Silver got them to do the movie. And then he brought in Rob Minkoff of The Lion King and Stuart Little to make a family movie that appealed to martial arts fans as well as to my daughters aged 5, 10 and 13 who loved it. It’s more fantasy and Narnia than it is a big martial arts movie.” Claiming the pic was made for only $55 million, TWC is quick to point out that Forbidden Kingdom is the first film released under its Asia Fund.

fsm3.jpgIn the 2nd spot was Universal’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall starring and written by How I Met Your Mother TV star Jason Segel under the Judd Apatow banner. It opened with $17.3M after debuting with $6M Friday and $6.8M Saturday from 2,798 venues. “This is an impressive number for a small R-rated comedy particularly given how tough the market has been lately and this weekend’s crowded field,” A Uni insider says.  History shows that the multiple on Apatow films, and the genre in general, is about 4 times the opening weekend’s gross. The modest cost of the film ($30M) puts Universal in a nice place to recoup its investment quickly. Rival studios thought its portrayal of a “wussy” guy with full-frontal male nudity might turn off Apatow’s strong male fan base. Then again, a watchable comedy has been AWOL from the cineplexes. And Uni’s clever teaser ad campaign — “Who Is Sarah Marshall?” — sparked a lot of Internet interest. Exits showed balance between male/female and young/old: 53% female/47% male,  under 30 = 56% ; 30 and older = 44%. Hispanic moviegoers made up the next largest portion of the audience after Caucasians.

al_pacino1.jpgSony’s PG-13 teen slasher pic Prom Night took 3rd its second weekend out, making $3.5M Friday and $3.7M Saturday from 2,700 plays (-56%) for what was a $9.1M weekend and new cume of $32.5M. The studio’s newcomer 88 Minutes starring Al Pacino in a poorly reviewed thriller that already debuted in Europe opened with $2.3M Friday and $2.7M Saturday domestic gross from 2,168 dates for what was a disappointing $6.8M weekend. The studio had hoped for $10M. “This was a North American acquisition for about $5 milllion so the upside with TV and home entertainment makes this a low exposure investment,” a Sony source told me Sunday.

stein-expelled.jpgThe only other newcomer in the Top 10 was conservative commentator Ben Stein’s documentary, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed which makes the intelligent design argument. Playing in 1,052 theaters, the pic distributed by Rocky Mountain Pictures fell over the weekend from 8th to 10th place after earning $1.2M Friday and $989K Saturday for a $2.9M weekend. But the per screen average for Friday was a low $1,145 and for Saturday $940 (and $2,830 for the entire weekend), showing there wasn’t much pent-up demand for the film despite an aggressive publicity campaign on right-wing media. So much for the conservative argument that people would flock to films not representing the “agenda of liberal Hollywood”. (Just for comparison purposes: left-wing Michael Moore’s most recent Sicko did $4.4 mil its opening weekend from only 441 theaters, and his Fahrenheit 9/11 did $23.9M its opening weekend from 868 venues.)

No. 5 was Fox’s Nim’s Island ($1.5M for Friday, $2.5M for Saturday, $5.6M for the weekend and a new cume of $32.8M); No. 6 was Sony’s 21 ($1.8M for Friday, $2.3M for Saturday, $5.5M for the weekend and a new cume of $21.3M); No. 7 was Fox Searchlight’s Street Kings ($1.2M for Friday, $1.6M for Saturday, $4M for the weekend and a new cume of $19.8M); No. 8 was Fox’s Horton Hears A Who! ($930K for Friday, $$1.5M for Saturday, $3.5M for the weekend and a new cume of $144.4M); and No. 9 was Universal’s Leatherheads ($923K for Friday, $1.3M for Saturday, $3M for the weekend and a new cume of $26.5M).

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